Another interesting word has come up in my research and discussions about the topic of Design Style… the word is TREND. When this word was mentioned to me, my first reaction was negative. I have never been a trend watcher or a trend follower, and the word usually brings up images of glass buttons on websites or rainbow gradients and dramatic drop shadows. Those cheesy layer style effects can be cool if used subtly and minimally. As I tell my students, just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it. And learning when a drop shadow (for example) should be used and to what degree can really be a defining factor in your development towards becoming a professional designer.
But what is a TREND? And how do we know the difference between a trend and a STYLE in graphic design?
To start, a TREND as defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary is “to extend in a general direction, follow a general course.” But that doesn’t quite satisfy the issue when it comes to design trends. Design trends are “cool” techniques and looks (at least for a time) that are developed that have no conceptual or strategic reason to be applied in the design. They are effects that are only “skin deep” and are often copied from popular media at the time. Many of them start out as new and different and for a time may be just that. However, as a wave of copycats follow suit, then the technique or look becomes overused and somewhat cheesy, causing the masses to abandon and disavow the technique in favor of the next hot thing.
A STYLE on the other hand, as I wrote about in a previous blog post, means “a distinctive manner of expression,” or “a particular manner or technique by which something is done, created, or performed.” In graphic design terms, we can understand this as a pre-determined set of specific visuals, shapes or elements that characterize that look. Now, a style can become a trend if it is being overused and applied in popular design without a conceptual basis for its application. But a trend isn’t necessarily a style. Styles live on and are often produced from movements in art and history.
Styles, when used right, are like tools that a designer can manipulate and use to articulate a concept for a design piece. Like all tools, you must pick the right one for the right job and have a good reason why it makes sense to employ a particular style. As for TRENDS, I’m not a big fan of following the masses, but even if a popular technique or look is to be used in a design… glass buttons for example, then remember another one of my favorite quotes, “practice safe design, use a concept!”